Hyperlite Mountain Gear's new ski-specific Headwall 55 pack is a versatile one-pack solution for all your technical skiing needs. | Hyperlite Mountain Gear photo.
One of the pieces of gear that I’m admittedly the most fussy and picky about is my backcountry skiing backpack. I’ve learned that adjusting your pack for the day’s objective is just as important as picking the right pair of skis or the right outerwear kit - but there’s something appealing about a one-pack quiver for general high-mountain skiing. If you’re going into big mountains to climb and ski technical objectives, you’re going to have to carry a lot of stuff - ropes, pointy things, avalanche gear, miscellaneous safety gear, food and water, extra layers, maybe an overnight kit? That all needs to go somewhere, and that somewhere is going to be on your back. If any of you have been following Cody Townsend’s The Fifty you might have noticed the highly-modular white Dyneema pack he’s been carrying all season long. It’s the Headwall 55 from Hyperlite Mountain Gear, and it was designed with help from him and other big-mountain skiers who were looking for a single pack that could do it all, whether it was freeride powder skiing or multi-day missions in North America’s biggest mountains. I’ve been testing the HMG Headwall 55 for the past few weeks here in the Tetons and on an early-spring trip up to Alaska’s Hatcher Pass, getting a feel for the versatility and comfort of HMG’s newest bag.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear has long been a favorite amongst the ultralight backpacking crowd for their extremely simple and ultra-lightweight Dyneema packs. With input from ski mountaineer extraordinaire Cody Townsend, the Headwall 55 takes that ultra-light expertise and brings it into a purpose-built package for backcountry skiing. What does that mean? Well, actually not a whole lot when it comes to features - but that’s the point.
The Headwall 55 is, you guessed it, a 55-liter pack with a single main compartment complete with a roll-top closure and an independent avalanche safety gear pocket on the outside. Inside, there’s a single organization pocket in the main compartment, and two zippered pockets on the hip belt. The outside of the pack comes with all the bells and whistles you’d want from a ski mountaineering pack, with dual ice-ax carry, a rope strap, and three compression straps on either side that double as an a-frame or vertical ski carry system.
Constructed with a mix of fully woven Dyneema on the bottom and at high wear points as well as ultralight DCH150 fabric on the main body, and Dyneema Stretch Mesh for the avalanche pocket, the pack weighs in at 1180 grams empty. If that’s not light enough yet, that can be stripped down further by removing the hip belt and some compression straps.
On the mountain, the 55-liter volume is VERY generous. I normally prefer a much smaller everyday pack (in the 30-liter range), but the versatile compression straps and extremely light weight of the Headwall 55 had me not minding the extra room, even on day tours. It’s nice to be able to just dump everything you're carrying into the pack, including a helmet, skins, ropes, or many extra layers, and not have to worry about playing backpack Tetris to make it all fit. The roll-top makes it easy to compress the pack down to a much smaller dimension. Despite the large volume, the pack does not bounce around while skiing, thanks to the comfortable and well-padded shoulder straps and hip belt. Of course, when it comes to overnight trips, the 55-liter volume is perfect for bringing bigger items like a sleeping bag, tent, and cooking gear.
One thing I found less than perfect was the ice ax carry system. With a full avalanche gear pocket, I found that the picks on axes strapped into the carry loops would protrude off the back of the pack and actually frequently got caught on trees or rocks. Adding some of sort of loop on the middle of the pack to secure the pick tip would allow the pick to lay flat on the back of the pack and not bounce around and get caught on things.
A note on sizing: Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s packs come in specific size breaks, and they recommend using the length of your torso and not your overall height to measure your size. If in doubt, go up a size. I measured into the size L pack, and it fits perfectly.
The Bottom Line:
Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s Headwall 55 is an excellent choice for those looking for a larger pack for big winter missions in the mountains. The 55-liter volume will carry just about anything you’d want to bring, whether it's overnight gear, dangly and pointy pits, or just a whole bunch of layers, but with the multiple compression straps and extremely lightweight Dyneema construction, the Headwall 55 also doubles as a day pack for technical routes.